If you went to bed a little early on Saturday night then the chances are pretty good you missed one of the more baffling coaching decisions of the season. With Washington and Utah tied at 30-30 after the Huskies battled back in the second half, Washington received the football with under a minute to play. Washington seemed to be playing for overtime with a short run to keep the clock rolling when Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham called a timeout. This gave Washington head coach Chris Petersen a chance to change the mindset on his sideline and go for the win before overtime, and it led to a game-winning field goal as time expired.
Whittingham essentially gave Washington a chance to win the Huskies had no intention of playing for in regulation, and it may end up costing Utah a spot in a postseason bowl game. After the game, Whittingham defended his decision-making by saying he was attempting to be aggressive, suggesting that if Washington really was playing for overtime, they would have taken a knee.
“You’d have to ask Chris that. But if they were not being aggressive they would have taken a knee,” Whittingham explained. “What’s the point in running a play if they’re not going to try to at least maneuver into field goal range. So we called timeout, had them in decent field position, second and eight or second and nine, and one incomplete pass and another timeout if they decide to run the ball. So it was a long shot, but we’re just trying to win and it obviously didn’t work out.
Here’s the play where Utah called the timeout. It sure seemed as though Washington had no real intention of playing for a field goal unless Utah made a huge mistake, which as it turned out they did,
Whittingham had no legitimate reason to call for the timeout and admitted it was a decision he would take back given the hindsight of knowing how the game would eventually end.
“In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have called the timeout,” Whittingham said. “But at the time, we were just trying to be aggressive and get the ball back to a guy who has about a sixty-yard range field goal wise.”
Petersen said after the game they were merely trying to run Myles Gaskin to see if there would be a crack or a big play. That never developed, but the timeout changed the situation for Washington. Petersen, not one to go out and trash an opposing coach over a questionable decision that benefits him, said he understood what Whittingham was trying to do.
“We wanted to run the ball and see if we could pop through with Myles and maybe get a 10-yard run,” Petersen said. “I get what Kyle was trying to do. You have to play aggressive in these situations.”
No, you do not.
There is a time to play with aggression, but this was not the time. Washington was settling on playing overtime, and Whittingham overthought the situation and got burned by it.